STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY DORSET EQUINE RESCUE
At both Dorset Equine Rescue and Windham County Humane Society, there is a feeling of optimism in the air. The passionate animal caregivers at these two nonprofits have worked tirelessly to create safe environments for animals in need of refuge. Thanks to the dedicated work of staff and donors, countless animals have been rescued and rehabilitated.
Dorset Equine Rescue
Jen Straub founded the Dorset Equine Rescue (DER) in 2012. A lifelong animal lover, Jen grew up around horses and developed a particular fondness for them. She has been a compassionate and involved animal caregiver since an early age. In her own words, “even when I was a kid, if there was a dog or a cat that was sick or injured, I was the one that would nurse them back to health.”
After she had her own family, she wanted to share her passion for horses with her children, so she adopted two rescue horses. When she first adopted them, they were malnourished and weak. As she nursed them back to health, she became inspired by the rehabilitation process. She subsequently channeled her rekindled passion for animal care into developing the Dorset Equine Rescue. Currently, DER has the capacity to house seven full-size horses and three miniature horses at their main East Dorset facility. At their satellite facilities in Manchester and Dorset, they can house an additional seven horses.
Horses in need of rescuing arrive from a variety of locations due to a number of different circumstances. These can range from local police seizures and owner surrenders to horse auctions where DER bids to save slaughter-bound horses
After Jen and her team have intervened and brought horses home, the intake process begins. Each is held in quarantine for at least 30 days. During this time, a veterinarian performs medical assessments on the horses to determine if any immediate additional medical action is needed, and the in-house horse trainer evaluates them for behavioral patterns to determine the extent of the training needed in order to prepare them for adoption.
Tiffany Vittum is the trainer on staff at DER. She has developed a training program where horses are gradually retrained to be able to peacefully socialize with other horses at the facility. Every horse comes with a unique set of challenges due to past experiences, so each one requires a custom-tailored approach to training.
Tiffany points out the importance of instilling a sense of camaraderie in the horses and fostering peaceful companionship in them from the very beginning. She explains, “When we pull horses from slaughter, we always try to do it in at least groups of two. That way, they have that companionship through their 30-day quarantine, and they’re not alone. Then, we introduce them to the main herd gradually. They start to get to know each other and form different relationships that way. Once they learn to establish themselves within the herd, it makes the transition to their adoptive home a lot easier.”
June and Butter are mother and son horses who found a new chance at life at DER. June arrived at the facility in a state of intense malnourishment. As she was nursed back to health, it became apparent that she was pregnant. Her son, Butter, is now 10 months old, and after a recent stay at the veterinary hospital due to health complications, he is back at the barn and has rejoined the herd.
At DER, horses like Butter and June get the very best, including a lush grass field for grazing, clean and well-maintained stables, and medication and custom-tailored diet programs. DER also has an outdoor riding arena, where horses receive essential training and can be taken for rides by prospective adoptive families. The main facility is picturesque and tranquil, but has no more space to accommodate further expansion.
When asked about future plans, Jen says, “We would really like to acquire more land so that we can build a bigger facility and have all the horses under one roof. Ideally, we’d have an indoor riding arena where we could train horses through the winter. We would love to have a larger facility to accommodate more horses, but as it stands here, we’re maxed out.”
Local fundraising and outreach efforts have helped DER spread the word about their operation, including volunteer programs with area schools, including Long Trail School and Burr and Burton Academy. Students help to clean and maintain the facility and groom horses. Fundraising events, such as the annual Barnyard Ball at the Inn at Manchester, offer fun and engaging opportunities to promote the cause and finance plans for future expansion. With the continued support of the community, DER will continue to grow and make a critical impact on the lives of even more horses.
Just north of downtown Brattleboro, Windham County Humane Society (WCHS) stands as a beacon of hope for domestic animals in need. They have created innovative animal rescue and veterinary healthcare programs that make proper pet care a feasible financial reality for residents of Windham County.
Founded in 1887 as the Brattleboro Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the organization was unincorporated in 1964 as the Windham County Humane Society. They rely heavily on donations, and – in addition to rescuing local stray and surrendered cats and dogs – they work with overcrowded rescues nationwide to provide shelter for animals, regardless of circumstance. Once in the facility, WCHS works toward rehabilitating the animals and finding them permanent homes.
The Pet Care Assistance program, which reduces the cost of veterinary appointments for financially qualifying local pet owners, is the first in the state. According to Executive Director Annie Guion, the program has “radically changed how the shelter operates.”
Annie explains that, “Even for middle-class families, taking their dog or cat to the vet can be a very expensive proposition. So, low-income families who often rely on their pets for comfort and companionship really struggle to pay vet bills. If you meet our income eligibility requirements and live in Windham County, we can provide these services at a discounted rate.” She continues, “We didn’t come up with this brilliant idea. It was modeled on the national level—but we’re the first to adopt it in Vermont.”
WCHS also presents community outreach and fundraising activities throughout the year, including Cat Yoga classes where adorable rescued cats wander through the lines of participants during a yoga session. For Valentine’s Day, dog lovers can order puppy grams and WCHS will bring an irresistibly cute rescue pup to your loved one at their home or office for some puppy playtime. All proceeds go towards helping WCHS maintain their operation and contribute to their goal of expansion.
WCHS is in the process of fundraising for the construction of a planned addition to their facility. Their current facility was built in 2000, and the ASPCA has since funded research on how to best care for animals in a shelter setting. WCHS aims to integrate the findings of this research into the design of their new compound. They have acquired an additional 1.1 acres of land north of their building and plan improvements that include the following: a brand new surgery and lab space, expanded outdoor dog yards, “catio” cat patios, and improved intake areas that grant law enforcement 24/7 access for drop-offs. The new facility will enable them to care for even more animals that come through their doors with state-of-the-art technology at their fingertips, giving them a much-needed edge in the fight against animal cruelty
The dedicated staff of Southern Vermont’s animal rescue organizations work long hours to help save the lives of at-risk animals. The future brings new challenges, but also new opportunities to make a positive impact. Thanks to the generosity of the local community, both Dorset Equine Rescue and Windham County Humane Society are on their way towards expanding their facilities to meet the needs of the animals they care for so passionately.
ALL THE DETAILS
Dorset Equine Rescue
PO Box 92, East Dorset, VT 05253
Windham County Humane Society
916 West River Rd., Brattleboro, VT